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Tidbits from the Literature of Remorse

May 24, 2011

I missed Too Big to Fail on HBO last night, and I hear it was wretched.  I’m not much for the real events, much less the derivatives.

In these unsteady times I’m feverishly drawn to children’s books. I like to mix it up, taking in news etc. as a chutney-like condiment — more bitter and sour than sweet — to a mainstay of children’s classics and 70’s sitcoms. The adult world is just too complicated to keep me company all the time.  I’d gladly spend the winter curled up under a blanket with one tall, colorful book after another, remembering the stiff sound of pages being turned by someone older and more awake, and a beloved voice reading to me as I fell asleep. Alas: I have no mother to read to me, and miles to go before I sleep.

When I am still drawn to my daughter’s bookshelves I get to thinking: maybe it’s not so crazy. Maybe there’s a shred of sense, or even genius in this new habit. I could be onto something.

Let’s say: if unbridled cleverness be the ruin of us, children’s literature could just be the tonic that refreshes and points us in a fruitful direction. But that sounds unbearably wholesome. I pull the soft blanket up under my chin and consider.

They’re saying business schools are having a hard time teaching ethics. Wait: I’m thinking Pinnochio could be just the ticket.

The Wooden Boy in Flight

Why bore people with dreary ethical treatises when you can offer them lively chapters in the life of a marionette-turned-boy, illustrated with beautiful engravings? Why lecture on the merit of keeping promises (y-a-w-n) when you can show them a sobbing puppet (POIGNANT! FUN! SIDE-SPLITTING!)? 

I decide this advice alone is not enough; what is really called for is a string of key revelations.

I have heard students in business school are very competitive, and short on time.

Thus, I come to


No sooner had the puppet appeased his hunger than he began to cry and to grumble because he wanted a pair of new feet.

But Geppetto, to punish him for his naughtiness, allowed him to cry and to despair for half the day. He then said to him:

“Why should I make you new feet? To enable you, perhaps, to escape again from home?”

“I promise you,” said the puppet, sobbing, “that for the future I will be good.”

“All boys,” replied Geppetto, “when they are bent upon obtaining something, say the same thing.”

“I promise you that I will go to school, and that I will study and earn a good character.”

“All boys, when they are bent on obtaining something, repeat the same story.”

From Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi, chapter VII

Thinking of all the good this could do, I begin to rejoice. So many of us are in need of moral instruction, but short on time and loathe to seek it in the usual places. This tiny, delightful course could catapult us from a puppet’s remorse to a humility all our own.

I have a suspicion, but I dare not whisper it, so I’ll put it in tiny print: Maybe we’re not really ever adults; we’re just children — or wooden toys — parading around in suits. 

Why not shake hands with the notion, or – better yet – succumb to it?

One could head over to the children’s section of the library, park oneself at a tiny table in a tiny chair and read a giant book.  One might, like Pinnochio, cry a few tears. It could be a relief.

Copyright Michele Gazzolo. An earlier version aired on WVPE Public Radio on November 19, 2009.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. gloria permalink
    May 24, 2011 10:26 pm

    Great post! I, too, find myself drawn to children’s books. I don’t know why, but every so often, I get a brothers’ Grimm or HC Andersen’s craving. Recently I re-read The Little Prince. I don’t know what it is, but once in awhile, I just need to immerse myself in them.

    • September 17, 2011 2:02 pm

      The world feels like such a thicket, and there is perennial wisdom in these stories.

      As I get older I love them more and more.

      Thanks so much for responding!

  2. May 25, 2011 9:03 am

    Michelle, I think you’ve got the early makings of a bestselling book there, introducing your idea to the wider world and creating some compelling examples of how adults and others in search of moral compass and growth could interact with children’s literature. I’m forwarding your post on to a friend of mine who teaches children’s lit here in Taipei and initiated her campus’ program for the Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility. Maybe the two of you could co-author!

    • May 25, 2011 9:05 am

      It’s been done before, with focus on a single set of books, by Benjamin Hoff in his pair (and maybe more?) of books, The Tao of Pooh and The Teh of Piglet, both lovely reads.

    • May 25, 2011 3:45 pm


      Thanks for the idea. I do love children’s literature, I sort of can’t believe how much. I appreciate your forwarding this…

      How are you?


      • May 25, 2011 7:47 pm

        Hey, I’d love to chat and catch up, and I’m wondering if you have Skype. My account: matt.nicodemus

        You’re in Michigan, right? That puts me thirteen hours ahead of you, I think, which could work well for both of us, since I keep pretty (very) late hours these days (years).

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